As Daniil Medvedev dethroned Novak Djokovic as men’s world No. 1 this week, the movement at the top of the women’s rankings was minimal. A few players moving up a couple of places, a few players dropping down one or two places.
At the top there was no change; there hasn’t been for 110 weeks now.
With 117 weeks in total spent at the top of the rankings, Ashleigh Barty has tied Justine Henin in seventh place for the most weeks as women’s world No. 1. Monica Seles (178 weeks) is next.
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But things are hotting up beneath Barty, who has announced she will not be playing Indian Wells or the Miami Open this month as her "body has not recovered the way" she hoped after winning the Australian Open.
French Open champion Barbora Krejcikova has moved ahead of Aryna Sabalenka into the world No. 2 spot. Iga Swiatek has jumped four spots to equal her career-best ranking of No.4 after winning in Doha, while runner-up Anett Kontaveit is up into fifth. Jelena Ostapenko, who has been in excellent form this month, is up into No. 12.
Swiatek, Kontaveit and Ostapenko could be the ones to watch over the next few months in the pursuit of Barty.
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Swiatek was in red-hot form at the Qatar Open as she only dropped one set on her way to winning her fourth career title. Swiatek, who made the semi-finals in Adelaide and at the Australian Open last month, beat three top-10 players – Sabalenka, Maria Sakkari and Kontaveit – to serve a reminder of her undoubted quality on hard courts. Working with new coach Tomasz Witkorowski since the start of the year, Swiatek is playing more aggressively and says she feels she has “more variety” to her game.
"It's always good to have that,” she said after dismantling Sabalenka in the quarter-finals in Doha.
“Because earlier when I played with experienced players, I always could feel that they have, you know, something, they have like an ace, you know, that they can put on the table. And here, from the beginning of the season, I feel like I have some of these aces, as well. I can just choose the proper one for the right match.”
An in-form and improved Swiatek should challenge for even bigger titles this year.
But there are others to look out for too.
Kontaveit has been the form player over the last six months, winning several indoor titles and reeling off nine wins in a run before losing in the final to Swiatek. She has more WTA victories (60) than any other player since the start of 2021.
Like Swiatek this season, the arrival of a new coach, Dmitry Tursunov, has played a big role in Kontaveit’s surge. Former world No. 20 Tursunov joined the team last summer and Kontaveit’s game has taken major steps forward since. She showed in Doha that it is not just indoors where she is a force.
Kontaveit beat another surging player on her way to the final in Doha. Ostapenko has had mixed success since winning the French Open as a 20-year-old in 2017, winning four more titles but also slipping down the rankings and only making it past the third round of two more majors (Wimbledon 2017 and 2018).
But she appears revitalised in recent weeks. She beat Swiatek, Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep on her way to lifting the title in Dubai and then beat Garbine Muguruza and new world No. 2 Krejcikova in straight sets before falling to Kontaveit in the Doha semi-finals.
A change in mindset appears to be behind Ostapenko’s improvement.
“Honestly, some matches I feel like I'm not fighting with the players but against myself,” Ostapenko told WTA Insider after her title win in Dubai.
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“Sometimes when I get too much in the emotions I'm playing against myself, which I'm working on and I should get rid of it. But I feel like the toughest opponent is myself. Not in all the matches, but in most of them.
“Because even when the score is close I still feel like I have a lot of potential and I have the reserves to put in when I'm playing that match. I'm not always 100%, sometimes I'm 50% or 60% and I'm still winning. But if I'm at 100%, the players can be in trouble.”
Ostapenko and Kontaveit both have opportunities to move further up the rankings if they can improve their records at the French Open and Wimbledon. Ostapenko lost in the first round of the French Open and the third round of Wimbledon last year; Kontaveit did the same in reverse.
For Barty, the battle to stay as world No. 1 starts again now, just as it did around this time last year when Naomi Osaka was aiming for top spot at the Miami Open.
Barty saved a match point in her opening match at that tournament and then won the title to cement her place as the best in the world – and she hasn’t looked back. But her decision to not return to the tour until April means she will miss out on the opportunity to gain points in Indian Wells, which she hasn't played since 2019, and she will also drop a significant number of points as she won't defend her title at the Miami Open. Barty is also defending champion in Stuttgart, which starts on April 18.
At the French Open there will be a chance for Barty to strengthen her position after she retired in the second round last year, but how close will the chasers be by then?
If Barty is to be caught - and returns on time in April - those doing the chasing will probably have to beat her. So far this season nobody has beaten Barty; she’s 11-0 in 2022. Last year she lost only five completed matches on the WTA Tour.
Her recent record against the best players is also phenomenal; she has won 22 of her last 23 matches against top-30 players, 17 of her last 18 against top-20 players and 12 of her last 13 against top-10 players. She’s also won nine of her last 10 finals, dating back to October 2019.
Overhauling Barty at the top of the rankings is going to be a huge challenge, but it’s one that Swiatek, Kontaveit and Ostapenko look ready to take on.
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